horror stories

Oh, Joy: Perimenopause Can Make You Stink, Too

I’m still scarred from the time I had to tell my best friend she absolutely reeked.

by Alisa Kennedy Jones
perimenopause can make you sweat and stink
Valeria Blanc/E+/Getty Images

I was in the car with my bestie, Merridy, when it hit. Something — someone — absolutely reeked.

I’d just showered. I discreetly sniffed my pits and got a hint of powdery scent. Still, the smell of musky-cheese-poop was enough to melt my glasses right off my face. It was the worst BO I’d ever experienced in my life, and I’d grown up with seriously stinky brothers who, to this day, still reek of filthy jockstraps and overcooked Brussels sprouts. This was much worse.

Merridy would totally tell me I stank, if only to spare my dignity. I mean, we were housemates, best friends, divorced single moms, both equally perimenopausal with avalanching hormones and all the symptoms that come with: torrential night sweats, frequent brain fog, wild mood swings, and Chernobyl-like hot flashes. We were Grace & Frankie, minus four decades and all the vibrators.

But it had to be me, I thought. I was usually the smelly one. I did all the cooking. I was knee-deep in garlic half the time. I was always chopping shallots for some kooky marinade. Maybe there were still vestiges of raw meat under my fingernails from previous night's sausage extravaganza? Merridy turned on the AC, which blasted stale warm air across both our faces, accentuating the BO to an even greater degree. Couldn’t she smell this? Surely she'd say something?

She’s British, also a screenwriter like me, with little-to-no filter, a total prerequisite for the job. A divorced mom of two who’d married youngish, the truth always comes out quite unvarnished from Merridy. I’m the exact same way, with a similar marriage saga.

And she had to smell what was going on here. It was a tiny car — the smallest Toyota Prius they made. Good God, I thought, am I getting BO-induced migraine from myself?

But what if wasn’t me? What if it was her?

I shifted in the passenger seat ever so slightly and gave a little sniff, my eyes watering amid the foul stench. You see, I’m the guilty type of person who, if something is wrong, always thinks, “Oh, it's gotta be me! It's gotta be me!” But it wasn’t me.

It was SO her. Lordy, she stank to high heaven. But I knew she used deodorant because we’d been grocery shopping together. So what had changed? I knew hormonal fluctuations, changes in sweat, and BO were totally common symptoms during perimenopause — was that what this WAS? I sat there frozen. Let me tell you, it's really awkward to turn to your bestie in the car and tell them that they are so incredibly stinky and that they have to stop using the totally accepted national brand antiperspirant beloved by so many other sporty role models because somehow their body chemistry just isn't jiving with it any longer.

Oh, God: But what if this was the perimenopausal brain fog, rather than the perimenopausal BO talking?

Never mind that we were on our way to a very public place where people would definitely be able to smell her from more than six feet away. I mean, should we turn the car around? We were halfway there. Should I just not say anything? And pretend that I wasn’t dying over here in the passenger seat? Or should we make an emergency pit (heh) stop at a drug store en route for something “clinical”? My mind reeled!

I knew I had to be a true friend and say something.

“Do you smell that?” I said, quizzically, gently sniffing at the air above me, although I was about to choke and die. (Ahem, hello Oscar?) “Is it me, or is it the car? I smell something terrible...”

We proceeded in the grand theater of smelling ourselves, the car, and each other, at which point I told the truth. But she’d already noticed the smell, it turned out: “Fucking hell, Alisa, here I was, thinking ‘Who’s this blob of poo who’s sludged her way into my vehicle?” And we both guffawed until our eyes watered.

We walked into the drugstore, bought travel samples of several different varieties, and proceeded to test them with each other over the next week, with me as resident pit sniffer. Every day, she’d apply a new product — we’d both do a super sweaty HIIT workout and then do a sniff test and rate said product on a scale of 1-10 for stink, dryness, and stain. Talk about friendship! Still, when it comes to perimenopause, this is just something that happens to so many of women, as we discovered in absolutely horrifying fashion.

Day after day, it was, “Nope, still smelly!” We finally found one that really actually worked to stop her intense perimenopausal stink: Degree Ultraclear Dry Spray and it didn't stain clothes, white or black or leave any yellow stains on white clothing afterward. Shockingly this was the least expensive option at $6 and also lasted 72 hours. When they say this, they actually mean it.

The only unfortunate thing is I’m pretty sure you can’t travel with it because it qualifies as a low-level aerosol. Check with your airline. They do make a solid version, but it doesn't seem to work as well as the spray.

Alisa Kennedy Jones is the mom of two daughters, an author, a screenwriter, and EIC of The Empress, a cultish weekly newsletter dedicated to obsessively curating a less hellish peri/menopause for women everywhere. Her next book THE EMPRESS AGE: Awakening Women’s Wisdom at Midlife to Live Rule Your Best Life is due out in 2024.